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  • Writer's pictureKristin Guglietti

Full-Day Pre-K coming?

Mento: New program would begin in Jan. 2022

Hammonton Superintendent of Schools Robin Chieco gave a presentation during the November 11 board of education meeting regarding the board’s actions moving to full-day pre-K. (Courtesy Photo)

HAMMONTON—Hammonton Superintendent of Schools Robin Chieco gave a presentation during the November 11 board of education meeting regarding the board’s actions moving to full-day pre-K.

“On our agenda this evening, we will be approving the submission of a grant to provide full-day pre-K to our students. This is part of the pre-K expansion grants offered through the state. If we receive approval, additional information will be shared with the community with an in-person meeting,” Chieco said.

In order to qualify, the district has to be up and ready by January 22, 2022, board president Sam Mento III told The Gazette during an interview on November 18 adding that full-day pre-K will begin January 18 in Hammonton if it is approved.

“Every pre-K student would have an option of going full day. If a parent thought that it was too much, they can pick them up. In the state of New Jersey, school is not required until the first grade,” Mento said.

Last week, Chieco said the half-day busing would end. Morning and end-of-school-day busing would remain.

According to Mento, the funding is a combination state and federal moneys.

Chieco told The Gazette last week that the funding for the hiring of teachers and staff would come from the state and funding for an addition to the Hammonton Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC) would come from the federal government.

“It is about the money per pupil that is very advantageous to our district. We have just over $4 million to expand our classrooms for full day pre-K [from COVID-19 funding]. Currently, right now we get roughly $4,200 per kid for pre-K from the state. When we move to full-time, we will receive roughly $13,500 per pupil. That number is set. It is different than the other funding,” Mento said November 18.

Mento said the district has a plan to accommodate the new full-day students.

“We are going to utilize some obsolete computer rooms. We don’t really need them. If our numbers show it, we will look into leasing space,” Mento said November 18.

Mento said they are advertising for “anticipated hires” with pre-K certifications. Chieco said the anticipated hires include four teachers, one special education teacher, eight aides, a master teacher, a school psychologist and a school nurse.

The board president said he recognized the potential hardship this would have on local and area private pre-K programs.

“I would never want to see a local business go under. They are all so very important to our community. I think what they are going to need to do is adapt with the times. If I were them, I would press very hard for the 2 and 3-year-old age groups. Right, now these kids [4-year-olds] are already attending our schools half- day,” Mento said November 18 .

Mento said that 40 percent of the students in the district are considered at poverty level.

“I understand that this may be hard on some local businesses. But I really believe in my heart that providing free, full-day pre-K would provide a tremendous benefit for those who need it most,” Mento said.

Mento said there is always parental choice if a parent wants to keep their kids in private pre-K.

Chieco said the district will know by December 17 if full-day pre-K will be going forward according to information from the state.

At the beginning of the meeting, Mento called the meeting to order and all board members were present at the Samuel A. Donio Memorial Library except Waterford Twp. School District Representative Al Pangia who was absent.

After the Pledge of Allegiance, Mento acknowledged the passing of former headcoach Joseph Cacia.

“Mr. Cacia, he was the beginning of the tradition here in Hammonton of a winning football team, a tradition of pride in this school, and he just recently passed away so let’s keep he and his family in our thoughts and prayers and we’re going to have a moment of silence for him along with all other of our former employees who may have passed in the recent past,” Mento said.

The meeting was on Veterans Day and board member Barbara Berenato along with other board members thanked our veterans for their service.

“Thank you for serving our country, keeping us safe, keeping us alive. I know there’s a ceremony going on now at the middle school that conflicted with our ceremony and it’s just sometimes when you watch TV and you see the condition that some of these men and women are in, you can’t help but pray for them every night, so thank you and God bless you,” Berenato said.

A nurse’s services plan for the 2021-22 school year was on the agenda. At the meeting, Berenato thanked the nurses.

“When I taught a very long time ago, it was like somebody went to the nurse because they needed a Band-Aid or you know when little kids got their tooth came loose, but today it’s almost as if it’s an emergency room with so many kids having so many problems so kudos to them and sincerely thank you and keep up the good work,” Berenato said.

Berenato mentioned she attended a Zoom meeting earlier that day for the middle school with attendees comprised of teachers, board of education members and parents.

“It seems like everything is somewhat back to normal. They showed the classes last year, the classes compared to this year. Kids are very resilient, and I think they’re doing a good job and I think they’re happy to have the clubs back, the sports back and everything going that they do have virtual tutoring,” Berenato said.

Berenato said one of the things mentioned at the Zoom meeting was the middle school pantry.

“Just like the pantry we have here at the high school for kids who may need a meal, who may need a book bag or something, so when you hear of contributions that can be made to that particular entity, you know please avail of that because it’s very well need; it’s very needed,” she said.

For the solar committee report, Board Member John Lyons said he “didn’t have much new to offer to share regarding the solar project.”

Lyons then congratulated Hammonton High School’s Class of 1993 alumnus, Michael Torrissi (R) who was elected to the New Jersey State Assembly, District 8.

“It’s not a small thing for somebody from Hammonton to get elected to state legislature, let alone someone you know. I’m very proud that Mike went here and continues to represent us well in the community, so again just congratulations,” Lyons said.

For the Finance Committee report, Board Vice-President Michael Pullia discussed finance item No. 56 on the addendum, “Resolved that the Hammonton Board of Education approve to advertise to re-bid the installation of one turf field at the Hammonton High School.”

“We still have the engineer working on the second turf field. Hopefully a future board will see light and have the finances to have both these turf fields at this school. It’s definitely needed … I think these turf fields will really help us go to the next level,” Pullia said.

According to Mento, in 2019 the board was going out to bid for two turf fields, but then “everything with COVID there were a lot of concerns.”

“We lost a bunch of funding from the state, and we decided that wasn’t the best time to pursue the bids, but now having revisited it, and actually putting in some more time and thought, we think it’s a very good decision to go ahead with the plans we already have for one field that will be located on the girls’ field hockey field,” Mento said.

According to Mento, the turf field will be used for field hockey and soccer, and it will also be used by the football team for practice.

“This is just the beginning for the upgrades of our facilities and I’m very excited to go out to bid for that,” Mento said.

Next, board member Linda Byrnes gave the curriculum committee report.

“It’s exciting to see that the W.E.S. [Warren E. Sooy Jr. Elementary School] and ECEC administration are preparing to start up their clubs and academies in the second marking period, and I think that gets us back to some normalization in that building,” she said.

Byrnes said she was also informed by Chieco that the high school will be adding some new courses.

“Many of them will be semester courses in the arts and theater areas, and I think that will really enhance our program and allow flexibility for students’ scheduling,” Byrnes said.

According to Chieco, as the district enters the second marking period, “several programs will begin in the coming weeks.”

“Our clubs and academies at WES and ECEC will begin shortly. Parents should be receiving information related to STEM academies and theater programs. At the middles school, our virtual tutoring programs will once again be offered. This is available to any student at the middle school that is in need of assistance with their classes. At the high school, we are going to offer college and career readiness academies. These academies will provide assistance with graduation requirements as well as SAT prep classes,” Chieco said.

During her presentation, Chieco thanked the MediLink Rx Care staff for “their continued assistance with providing vaccinations for our staff and students.”

“As a result of this collaboration, we will be offering a vaccination clinic for students ages 5 through 11 at ECEC on November 20 with the second dose being given on December 11. Once final details are worked out, I will be sending an email to our ECEC and WES families with information. This is provided free of charge to any family that would like to participate,” Chieco said.

During the meeting, Board Member Erica Polito thanked the veterans for their service and congratulated newly reelected board member Thomas Attanasi and the new board members, Kelly Donio and Luke Coia, and she wished them the best.

Before giving the building and grounds report, Mento thanked Keri and Ron Fisher from Ron’s Gardens for lending flowers and pumpkins that were used as decorations for homecoming. He also thanked Robert Capoferri for lending two mobile light towers.

“That was a great job by our faculty and staff, and kudos to the kids who actually said they wanted to have a homecoming dance and they came to the administration, and we were able to provide them a tent outside and again, just working back to normalcy and trying to give these kids the memories and all the traditions they deserve in high school. It was a really great event, and I want to thank everyone who was involved,” Mento said.

During the meeting there were two opportunities for public comment, but no comments were made.

When it was time to vote for matters concerning finance, the board most notably resolved to:

• Ratify the purchase order lists for September and October 2021 in the amount of $279,276.15.

• Ratify the October 2021 payroll in the amount of $3,527,584.04.

• Approve to award contract to Cummins Equipment Co., Inc. for a Kubota Utility Vehicle in the amount of $18,975 based on lowest quote.

Next the board voted on matters concerning personnel. Most notably they resolved to:

• Approve a letter of resignation as a Kind Kids Club advisor from Ashley Filipone.

• Approve a letter of resignation as the 2nd Grade Theater Advisor from Amanda Oliva.

• Approve the increase in hours for the following district bus aides effective November 12, 2021: Lori Cannistra from four hours/day to five hours/day and Louis Girard from four hours/day to five hours/day.

• Approve the revised stipend for the personnel for the elementary school Kind Kids Club for the 2021-2022 school year.

• Approve the ECEC personnel for the Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator for the 2021-2022 school year.

• Approve ECEC personnel for the Intervention and Referral Services (I&RS) for the 2021-2022 school year.

• Approve a Spring 2022 practicum placement for Charles Santilli, a student from Wilmington University, in the elementary school.

• Approve a letter of retirement from Susan Milazzo, high school secretary, effective November 30, 2021.

• Approve a letter of resignation as a district food service worker from Karen Henderson effective November 11, 2021.

• Approve a salary adjustment for the following personnel effective November 16, 2021: Debra Schmidt – from MA+15 $63,262 ($61,832 + $1,055 Guid. Stipend + $375 in field) to MA+30 - $64,180 ($62,750 + $1,055 Guid. Stipend + $375 in field) and Matias Spahn – from BA - $56,811 to BA + 15 - $57,663.

• Approve the restoration of a 12-month high school secretary position from a 10-month high school secretary position effective July 1, 2022. Berenato abstained. Polito and Kelli Fallon voted no.

• Approve the additional high school fall workers for the 2021-2022 school year.

• Approve the revised list of personnel for the 2021-2022 high school winter coaching stipends.

• Approve the following personnel pending receipt of all necessary paperwork (current substitute pay schedule approved by the Board August 5, 2021: Regular County Substitute Certificate - $110 per day, Regular Standard State Teaching Certificate - $125 per day; substitute nurse pay schedule approved by the Board October 14, 2021: School Nurse - $225 per day): Shaira Vazquez-Lagunas – ECEC (replacement M.B.) part-time instructional aide; Anthony Cruz – district (replacement F.S.) full-time grounds worker effective November 16, 2021; Anthony Merlino Jr. – district (replacement J.R.) full-time maintenance worker; Karen Henderson – district full-time custodian effective November 12, 2021; Jackson Morris – district full-time custodian effective November 16, 2021; and Frances Butterline – elementary school part-time cafeteria/playground aide effective November 29, 2021. Substitute teacher who has a teaching certificate: Jessica Lynch. Substitute teachers who have a New Jersey substitute certificate: Tyler Docker-Beck and Dominica Albo. Substitute teacher who is applying for a New Jersey substitute certificate: Jake Ellington. Substitute food service worker ($12.80/hr.): Serena Romeo. Substitute custodian(s) - $14/hr. Substitute hall monitor(s) and cafeteria aide(s) - $12.80/hr. Substitute bus driver(s) - $16.50/hr.

For programs, students and miscellaneous matters, the board most notably resolved to:

• Approve the submission of the Preschool Expansion Application (PEA) for the 2021-2022 school year.

• Approve the submission of the School Safety and Security Plan Annual Review Statement of Assurance.

• Approve the district Nursing Services Plan for the 2021-2022 school year.

• Approve the continuation of participation in the N.J. Seal of Biliteracy Testing for eligible high school students in the amount of $995 for the 2021-2022 school year.

• Approve to create a sub-account of the middle school Student Activities account entitled Student Health and Wellness account for the 2021-2022 school year.

• Approve the additional high school course offerings for the 2022-2023 school year.

• Affirm the Superintendent’s HIB recommendation as discussed at the prior month’s meeting.

• Approve to accept a check in the amount of $500 presented from Hammonton Home and School Association to the middle school.

For the addendum, the board most notably resolved to:

• Approve the bill list for November 2021 in the amount of $670,620.63.

• Ratify the check lists for October and November 2021 in the amount of $626,192.94.

• Approve the three-year Comprehensive Maintenance Plan 2020-2021 through 2022-2023.

• Approve to advertise to re-bid the installation of one turf field at the Hammonton High School.

“I would like to wish everyone a very happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving, and I hope you get to have a little bit more normalcy this year than in the recent past,” Mento said before entertaining a motion to adjourn the meeting.

The next school board meeting will be held December 9 at 7 p.m. at the Samuel A. Donio Memorial Library.

Gina Rullo contributed to this report.


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